You Got to Recognize

Southern accents and technology go together like oil and water.

Excerpt from the book “They Call Me Orange Juice” by Audrey McDonald Atkins

I have a love-hate relationship with voice recognition technology.

I love that it is, in theory, an easy and convenient way to avoid having to use the keypad or talk to a human should you actually have the misfortune to reach one. I hate that while it recognizes that I do indeed have a voice, it does not recognize that my particular voice has a particular accent. 

My first encounter with the technology that has since become my nemesis was at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. Brother was flying home from Rome (Italy, not Georgia), and his plane did not arrive at the appointed hour, nor was there an updated arrival time on the board. I marched over to the airline’s desk to find out what was going on, but since it was the evening, the desk was unmanned and dark. There was, however, a sign taped to the desk with the 800 number for the airline.

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So I pulled out my cell phone and called.

“Thank you for calling our airline,” answered a nice robotic lady voice.

You are most welcome, I thought to myself.

The nice lady instructed me to speak the flight number about which I wished to inquire.

“4965,” says I.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t quite get that. Please repeat your flight number,” says she.

I repeated, “4965.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t quite get that. Please repeat your flight number,” says she.

4965,” I said a little slower and a little louder, because we all know that you are vastly more understandable if you just slow down and holler.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t quite get that. Please repeat your flight number,” says she.

4-9-6-5,” I holler into the phone again, a little louder and a lot more emphatically.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t …” I hung up in frustration. And let me add that it is not at all satisfying to hang up on someone, even a robot lady, when you have no receiver to slam down.

As I was trying not to have a hissy fit right in the middle of the airport, it dawned on me. What I was saying was “4965,” but what the robot lady was hearing was “foe-wer neye-un see-ux feye-uv.”

Damn you, robot lady, and your emotionless pleasantries! Damn you, for not recognizing the Southern accent!

From then on, I was all keypad all the time.

From time to time, I think that maybe I should pull a Don Williams and learn to talk like a man on the six o’clock news (if you don’t get the reference, listen to him sing “Good Old Boys Like Me”). I mainly have this thought on weekday mornings a little after seven. “Why on particular days at a particular time?” you might ask.

The answer is number one in my heart and number one on my dial: public radio. Every morning I listen to my local station and hear the morning news delivered by a nice lady voice. She always says in a very soothing way, “It’s 7:10. Thank you for listening to WBHM.” Except what she really says is, “It’s sehvehn tehn. Thank you for listening to double-ewe be aych ehm.”

Every morning I look in the mirror and say, “Tehn. Ehm. Tehn. Ehm. Tehn. Ehm.”

What I hear is, “Tee-uhn. Ay-um. Tee-uhn. Ay-um. Tee-uhn. Ay-um.”

I just can’t make my mouth say those two words. And I wouldn’t sound like me if I did.

So at seven tee-uhn tomorrow, instead of “Tee-uhn. Ay-um. Tee-uhn. Ay-um. Tee-uhn. Ay-um,” I plan to say, “You are most welcome.”

After all, it’s our differences that make us who we are — unique and beautiful, intriguing and special. You just got to recognize it.

Note: When I was writing this piece, my beloved husband asked me if I had finished it. “I did,” I answered. At which point he mimicked me with a loud “Ah deeeeee-uuuuhhhddd.” Please note that he lives in a house of North Georgia hillbilly glass and should not be throwing dirt clods.

Born and raised in Citronelle, Atkins shares stories about growing up and living in the South in her book, “They Call Me Orange Juice,” and at her blog

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